Hair balls, those cylinder-shaped tufts of bile-coated fur that your kitty periodically deposits on your clean floor, are nature’s remedy for removing indigestible fur from your kitty’s tummy. However, complications can occur if your kitty, in the process of grooming, swallows more fur than her system can cope with.
Hair ingested by your cat when she grooms herself doesn’t always develop into a hair ball. Instead, the fur mixes with food as it passes through her digestive tract and is expelled in her feces.
Complications occur when fur isn’t regurgitated as a hairball or passed in stools. If too much fur accumulates it can become stuck in her intestines, creating a potentially life-threatening blockage within the digestive tract. Long-haired cats and cats that suffer from sluggish digestion or an underlying stomach problem are more susceptible to developing complications from hair balls. Constipation is the most immediate symptom. In addition to being unable to pass stools, your cat may be lethargic, lose her appetite and vomit sporadically. An intestinal blockage is always a medical emergency. It is treated through fluid therapy and laxatives. In severe cases surgery may be required to remove the excess hair.
Hair balls can lead to chronic and ongoing constipation without causing a complete intestinal blockage. The presence of too much hair in your cat’s stomach results in hard dry stools that are difficult to pass. Stools may also get stuck in the bowel, resulting in fecal impaction. Your vet may prescribe a medication that will lubricate hairs in your pet’s stomach to prevent them tangling, reducing the risk of constipation. A mild laxative may also need to be administered once or twice a week.
Brushing your cat regularly will remove some of the fur that might otherwise be ingested through self-grooming, helping to reduce the risk of constipation and other medical problems. Kitties like to nibble on grass and it is believed that the fiber in grass acts as a natural laxative, helping the fur to pass harmlessly through your kitty’s digestive track and breaking it down to help it pass more easily. If your pet stays indoors, you can grow grass from seeds available in pet stores.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.